scotland (4K)
The Friends of the Far North Line
Cairdean Na Loine Tuath
the campaign group for rail north of Inverness - lobbying for improved services for the local user, tourist and freight operator

Yet More Forward Planning Reports

Three important reports have been published in the last four months. They are:

Network Rail Scotland has set out its vision of what it could deliver during the next control period (2014-2019) given the funding. This includes its £200M plan to improve journey times and service frequency from Inverness to Aberdeen (InvAb); a £37M upgrade of the Highland Main Line (HML), increasing capacity and reducing journey times; a £50M investment in freight; and a £42M fund to increase level crossing safety, including at the barrier-less AOCLs. This will all be very welcome investment benefiting the Highlands at long last and it is all now in public expectation to be delivered.

Very sadly, the Scottish Government's SGIIP now leaves the timing of their two supposedly "priority" projects up in the air, after we have waited so long! The InvAb scheme which was promised for completion in 2016 is now given an end date of 2030! The HML scheme (announced by the First Minister in Inverness in 2008) is now given an end date of 2025. Government green credentials seem to have been watered down and the emphasis now appears to be on dualling the A9 and the A96. I say, "appears to be" because what is now happening is far from clear. The first big test will be to see if the InvAb scheme gets the expected full funding early in 2012 to allow completion in 2016.

Rail 2014, which asks the public to give their views on the standard of rail services they wish to be specified in the new franchise for ScotRail to commence in 2014, has also provoked controversy. Suggestions that the sleepers might be discontinued and all day trains from England to Scotland go no further north than Edinburgh or Glasgow have generated much comment in the newspapers. Perhaps this was unfair and the consultation document was merely setting out ideas for discussion, perhaps not.

Both Rail 2014 (above) and the IIPS betray a geographical bias in authorship, failing to appreciate the sometimes different perspective in the north and the strategic nature of routes to (and from) all parts of Scotland. The IIPS kindly notes that InvAb would "deliver substantial economic and accessibility benefits beyond the monetised benefits." On Highland Main Line (Phase 2) it considers that the upgrade "will provide better access for the communities of Northern Scotland to employment and business opportunities in central Scotland." That is very true, but completely ignores the benefits to both communities of improved access from the south, which an accelerated 07:00 train arriving in Inverness by 10 a.m. would particularly foster. Both these routes are strategic to Scotland and the economy of Scotland; they are not just Highland projects.

Scotland as well as the Highlands awaits the connectivity that these long awaited rail projects will bring. FoFNL hopes that the effects will be beneficial north of Inverness too.

Richard Ardern

The consultation document can be found at . FoFNL has submitted a response, but members are reminded that they may contribute to this consultation individually, and that the closing date for submissions is 20 February 2012.